Written by Allison Kasper
Photos provided by Louise Page, Claire Faulhaber, Morgan McKinney and Frances Berry
Life as we know it has come to a halt over the past few weeks. The words “quarantine” and “social distancing” have become sewn into our daily conversations. The COVID-19 pandemic has enforced the crucial “Safer at Home” order, which has drastically changed life for many Memphians.
Because of the preventative measures enacted to help stop the spread of the novel coronavirus, many musicians, artists and service-industry professionals have lost their incomes for an undetermined amount of time.
In this article we talk with local musician Louise Page, tattoo artist and illustrator Claire Faulhaber, bartender Morgan McKinney and artist Frances Berry about how they are managing to stay focused on their respective crafts.
“A weird, unexpected silver lining of this entire horrible situation has been that I've been able to practice my instrument so much more than I generally am able to. Usually, I play so many gigs, that my keyboard isn't even set up in my apartment, and most of my playing time is actually performance time,” says pianist and singer-songwriter Louise Page. “Having my keyboard set up has been a huge asset, and I've been able to practice, and write, and play around, and really perfect some of the things I'm working on. Honestly, most of my time has been spent at the keyboard.”
For local bartender Morgan McKinney, she has turned her space into her own cocktail studio, since she is no longer able to work at Restaurant Bari.
“I haven’t been employed less than full-time anywhere since I was eighteen, so switching to only working one day a week, basically overnight, has been really overwhelming for me. I find comfort in structure. It was important to me to find a way to start considering myself ‘self-employed’ versus ‘un- or underemployed.’ I’m still creating, but now I’m focusing on what I want to create that doesn’t necessarily fit into my restaurant's aesthetic. I’m trying out recipes and making ingredients that have been on my to-do list for a long time but kept getting pushed back by work projects.” McKinney relays, “And tons of writing. One of my goals this year was to start on my own cocktail book, and that is definitely something I’ve been putting a large amount of energy into since I’ve been home.”
Tattoo artist and illustrator, Claire Faulhaber has brought their tattoo equipment home to continue their practice, while also still working on some commissions.
“I'm continuing to work on custom projects I have on the books through until the end of May. I brought my equipment home from the shop so I'm sure I'll be tattooing myself and the people I'm quarantined with at some point,” says Faulhaber. “Since tattooing requires coming within 6 feet of someone, it's hard to say how long it will be until I can practice my craft on others.”
For artist Frances Berry, life in quarantine does not necessarily feel that different, she explains, it just looks a bit different since she has relocated to the Alabama countryside.
“Quite honestly, things aren't really all that much different for me. Like before all of this, during all of this. I've adapted to being in a different spot, having much more limited materials. So, it's the same day to day practice, it's just in a different spot in a more condensed version. We left Memphis about a week and a half ago, packed up the Prius and the dogs, and came to the country. I just put whatever I could to fit into my car. I'm so incredibly fortunate to have this place to come to, because I'd be freaking out at home.” Berry says, “But then again, with artists, I think that we’re probably transitioning to this a lot easier than most people. I mean we're naturally introverts and we're naturally in our studios, wherever it may be. It’s not really a group effort. We have isolation; So, it’s kind of like everybody else is just coming into our world.”
The quarantine has given many artists more time to work on and develop new projects. Louise Page continues to perform through live streams. She has also just released a new single titled “Mushroom’s Lullaby.”
“I think the thing that initially put some pep back in my step was the live stream I did on 3/27 for Memphis Travel and I Love Memphis raising money for the Music Export Memphis COVID-19 relief fund. That whole experience was incredibly cool - and everyone who watched was so kind and supportive.” Page adds, “I'm releasing a new single called "Mushroom's Lullaby." I'm particularly excited about "Mushroom's Lullaby" because it’s a bit of a departure from a lot of the music I've released in the past – It's gentle, delicate, and soothing. Much of my music that's currently out is very dramatic, intense, and complex. “Mushroom's Lullaby” is a song I wrote two years ago for my cat. She has bad storm anxiety, and I noticed it would chill her out if I sang to her, so I improvised this little song for her, and saved it in the voice memos on my phone. At the start of the coronavirus pandemic, I thought about this song, written to sooth my cat's anxiety, and thought it might be a good moment to release something soothing into the world.”
Claire Faulhaber and Page have also teamed up during this time for the new release.
“My dear friend Claire Faulhaber illustrated the album art for this single. I actually cried when I saw it. It's so beautiful, and so clearly drawn with love and tenderness,” says Page.
Faulhaber mentions other projects in the works, including this collaboration with Page.
“I've got a new illustration for Louise Page coming out this week! I'm also working on new flash and building a website, finally. I've got some new t-shirt ideas as well. I’ve also planned some collaborative projects with a couple other tattooers I'm close with,” Faulhaber adds.
Frances Berry has taken this opportunity to create commissions, which she then donates a portion of that revenue to MIFA, Memphis Humane, and the Mid-South Food Bank. q
“One of the ways of making sure that I have steady revenue though is about two weeks ago I started doing $50 commissions, and the first day I got like 45 or 50 of them. So, I did a whole bunch of those,” explains Berry. “Then I started thinking like okay, people are clearly wanting to send us money, then I'll finish up $50 commissions and I'm going to take $100 commissions and start donating half the proceeds to MIFA, Memphis Humane, and the Mid-South Food Bank. It turned out that people who paid me $50 turned around and paid me another $50 more to donate. It's amazing to see the community kind of like kind of step up and fill a void.”
Berry is also using this time in the country to paint outside and keep up with her usual projects.
“I actually set up a four by eight board in the middle of the woods, and I've been painting out there when the weather's pretty. Which continues with elements and stuff, it's not something I'm accustomed to,” Berry says. “But at the same time, a lot of times I find that the best work I make is when I'm stripped down to the bare minimum of things. I know that I'll go back into my studio when I get back to Memphis with a totally rejuvenated look on everything because I will suddenly have all these tools at my disposal and all of this room and everything will be kind of totally back to normal whatever that means.”
Morgan McKinney has been working on virtual cocktail classes during her time. She wanted to create a space that provides a hands-on, virtual cocktail experience. People can learn more about their favorite spirits, cocktails and wine in an interactive virtual space. These classes are hosted through Zoom, and links to access the classes can be found through McKinney’s Instagram (@morganthesparrow) or through emailing her directly at email@example.com.
“I’ve been teaching virtual cocktail classes that I am extremely excited about. I’m designing them to be universal for all experience levels. While teaching is my main goal, I also want to use this class series to foster an environment where other service industry people can workshop their own ideas and projects,” says McKinney. “There are so many talented and passionate servers, bartenders, and cooks in Memphis, and I want to learn from them all. I would love for this virtual experience to serve as a way for us to come together in creative and constructive ways, so when this pandemic is over, we can come out even stronger and more successful.”
Finding other outlets outside of art has also been helpful for these women. Faulhaber, Berry and McKinney have mentioned exercise as being a helpful tool during this time.
“I'm exercising every day which I used to do somewhat obsessively before I started tattooing five years ago. So, it feels good to carve out time every day to do that for myself again,” says Faulhaber. “Hopefully whenever we emerge from this and develop our new normals, I'll be able to keep it up. It's so good for my mental health.”
“I’ve gotten back into running, which has been really liberating in a time when it’s scary to even go to the grocery store. I’ve also been much more aware how important small acts of kindness and patience are—finding ways to spread the resources I’m fortunate to have, being considerate of how others are coping with the crisis, and trying to practice a whole hell of a lot of empathy,” McKinney adds.
Berry has taken time to run every morning with her partner, and is also working with different mediums in her art.
“I've actually started to tip toe back a little bit to some of my digital work. I started doing that the other night, which was a little weird, because it's been years since I've done any of that. So, I haven't really shown anybody any of it, but since I have my phone on me I'm able to do it wherever,” says Berry.
Page has turned to journaling as a way to release emotions.
“One thing I've started doing that I've been enjoying massively is keeping a journal,” explains Page. “When I was a kid, I was really into this "Dear America" series of books. Each book was a fictionalized journal or diary written by a kid going through some massive moment in history. As it sunk in that we are living through a massive moment in history, I decided it might be cool to keep a journal. It is an incredibly grounding, thoughtful exercise.”
One of the hardest parts of social distancing for many is trying to adjust with this drastic lifestyle change. Each of these artists have given their own experience to how they are coping, along with some parting words of encouragement for others.
“I’m a pretty hard-core extrovert, so not seeing my loved ones has been a big blow,” McKinney says. “I’ve been video-chatting a ton, and I’ve become a bit of a social media monster. I’ve really found comfort in my virtual martial arts classes (although if we don’t get back to real life soon, my roommate might get forced into learning some partner drills!) I’m trying to just remember that as long as I’m doing my part, I can keep my loved ones safer for a little longer.”
“There's a reason why it was so jarring for us to come to a halt because we were moving so fast,” Berry says. “I suppose just try to find the benefit in all of this. It's time that is going spent regardless whether or not you're happy about it or not. One thing I've been telling my friends in Memphis is to stop trying to distract yourself and maybe spend some time actually facing yourself. I think that a lot of us are so on the move constantly that it's a rare opportunity to kind of take a collective pause.”
“I'm always one to give wise words, I suppose. I do always try to stay positive. But I'm actually kind of probably weirdly enjoying the social distancing in all of this. It just means everybody else is behaving the same way that I normally do. I have the good fortune of being with somebody that I love, so that time that I'm spending with him has been great. But I do know that other people are alone in all of this, which would really suck. This whole thing has been a wake-up call in a lot of ways. But I really think just the pace of living is just coming to a halt. “There's a reason why it was so jarring for us to come to a halt because we were moving so fast,” Berry says. “I suppose just try to find the benefit in all of this. It's time that is going spent regardless whether or not you're happy about it or not. One thing I've been telling my friends in Memphis is to stop trying to distract yourself and maybe spend some time actually facing yourself. I think that a lot of us are so on the move constantly that it's a rare opportunity to kind of take a collective pause.”
Faulhaber mentions that they have been FaceTiming more to stay connected, but also dives into the loneliness aspect that comes with quarantining. They also hope that social distancing will bring forth more understanding on the value of personal space.
“I'm thinking a lot about the lack in platonic intimacy. As a single person, I'm quarantined with no partner. It's definitely a lonely time and I feel vulnerable and nostalgic. This isn't a new development by any means, so through social distancing I'm focused on the platonic intimacy I share with friends and value so much. I'm missing that a lot right now and am feeling my values spotlighted in a way I didn't expect. With personal space being mandated, I'm hoping that in the aftermath of this there will be an even greater understanding for the respect of personal space and boundaries. Faulhaber explains.– “I've been dwelling on some harder aspects of my recent past with physical, sexual intimacy lately and it has been challenging and triggering at times. I do find myself feeling hopeful for a more communicative future, great change will come from this time in many ways. I hope that we all come away from this more compassionate. I'm learning to be more compassionate with myself and take the time in this forced-slowing-down to meditate and try to heal in ways that my day to day life sometimes doesn't allow. It's a good time to listen not only to your friends (on the phone or six feet away) but to listen to yourself as well.”
"My advice to others would be not to put too much pressure on yourself, and to reach out if you're feeling low or afraid. There is no need to be productive during a global pandemic. If you're feeling inspired, run with that feeling! But if you wanna ride this out by watching crappy reality TV from 2005, I fully support you. There is no pressure to be productive. However, if you are feeling like your mental health is declining, please reach out to someone you trust.”
Page has seen both good and bad days, and she also lives alone.
“I struggle with depression, so the hardest thing about all of this for me has been that the 'safer at home' order means that my daily routine looks a lot like how it looks when I'm going through a tough depressive episode – staying at home all day, not doing anything, not seeing anyone. I’m very grateful for my sweet cat Mushroom, for Facetime, and for the fact that I have a lot of things to occupy my time! So, I've had some bad days where my mental health is super exacerbated, but I've also had some unexpectedly gentle days, where I get to do a lot of things just for me – which is a luxury many of us aren't afforded very often in life,” says Page, who also offers some advice to others who are suffering during this time. "My advice to others would be not to put too much pressure on yourself, and to reach out if you're feeling low or afraid. There is no need to be productive during a global pandemic. If you're feeling inspired, run with that feeling! But if you wanna ride this out by watching crappy reality TV from 2005, I fully support you. There is no pressure to be productive. However, if you are feeling like your mental health is declining, please reach out to someone you trust.”